I’ve recently been doing some research into milk production in colonial Burma and going through the pages of the anti-colonial daily newspaper Thuriya for the interwar years. Despite trying to encourage domestic production of commodities through articulating a form of economic nationalism, the paper was mostly full of adverts for foreign products—including both powdered and condensed milk. Here are some examples:
These adverts were all from the year 1927 and for different companies. The top one is for Hollandia Condensed Milk, which proclaims it is ‘Always Useful’. The second is for the the Ku.la: Ma Khyin: brand. And the last is the Nestle owned company, ‘Lactogen’, which informs readers that this condensed milk will make children big and strong. All three put an emphasis on childhood growth and the domestic home. As the historian Chie Ikeya has argued, this was part of the emergence of the figure of the modern woman in colonial Burma. In the top two adverts she is figured as a health consicous consumer and mother.
But it is striking to me that cows are entirely absent from the advertising of these dairy products. In colonial Burma at the time the production of fresh milk was associated with itinerent Indian dairymen. There were official concerns about the healthiness of this milk because of the allegedly ‘unclean’ habits of these cattle owners. Concerns about the sanitary production of dairy was inflected with concerns about racial divisions in the colonial context. Perhaps the absence of the cow and the prominence of the can in these adverts was designed to push the animal out of the mind of a potential consumer, and with it concerns about contamination.